“I need my fat pants,” Kirstie Alley comically shrieked in the Fat Actress trailer.
So did I.
I remember the comfort I felt when the show Fat Actress came out. To many, it was simply a sure belly laugh. To me, it was food for my soul.
Kirstie, who died Dec. 5 at age 71, was arguably one of the first celebrities who demonstrated the beauty of a plus-size body. She did it through her Fat Actress series and I’ve always admired her for it.
Though she often presented her weight in a self-deprecating way, I believe that made her more accessible and paved the way to body acceptance and body positivity. It was a necessary step toward where we are today, able to admire larger bodies without having to play them for laughs.
We couldn’t get to the body positivity of Lizzo today without the steps taken by Kirstie then.
Kirstie meant a lot to me.
I grew up in the era when weight loss wasn’t just an option. It was an expectation.
If you were fat, you were a comical sidekick. If you lost weight, you were a goddess. You had the world’s approval. Suddenly, your body was worthy — and so were you.
When celebrities gained weight, they were shamed in the tabloids. Over and over again.
Who could forget the thunderous eruption of applause that filled the room in 1988 when Oprah Winfrey wheeled out a wagon full of 67 pounds of animal fat to represent the fat she had shed?
I stared at the television, absolutely stunned — feeling shamed for the pounds I had shed so many times — and then gained back.
I always ‘Cheered’ for Rebecca.
I grew up watching Cheers. Sam Malone and Rebecca Howe were household names. Kirstie Alley was beautiful; I wanted to be just like her.
I also grew up believing you weren’t beautiful unless you were the thin version of yourself. The fat version of yourself wasn’t acceptable. It was flawed, weak and unbearable.
This was long before I found acceptance through the plus-size movement. Before most of us did.
There was no Instagram for reassurance, or Facebook for connection. The only thing you knew was that you would be congratulated if you lost the weight, no matter how much you hurt your health to do it.
It was only through celebrities like Kirstie and Oprah that I began to realize I wasn’t flawed. My struggle was normal. It was no different from theirs.
Body positivity came far too late.
But reflections on how things were can be painful, a fire consuming your soul in a slow burn that lasts a lifetime. Diet culture is toxic. Terrifying. Harmful in ways that are too difficult to put into words.
I wish Oprah and Kirstie had had the support of the body positive movement back in those days. Things would have been different. Influencers would have been standing up saying, “Hey, you’re beautiful.”
Think of the tears they shed, body shamed day after day until they were forced to take drastic measures. I can’t imagine the sense of failure they must’ve felt.
For most of us, it’s impossible to understand the pain of being shamed by thousands of people. I still remember seeing a picture of Kirstie that had been taken at an unflattering angle with a headline saying “Fired for Being Too Fat.” Yes, that was an actual National Enquirer headline. It’s bad enough having people around you making judgments, much less tabloids.
It wasn’t OK to simply be yourself. Women hadn’t yet stood up to say, “Enough is enough. We deserve to be celebrated just as we are.”
Now, we have celebrities like Lizzo and Ashley Graham who are essentially saying, “Screw diet culture. You are OK. You’re beautiful just as you are.”
We have cover models like Tess Holliday showing that you don’t have to be a size 2, or even a size 10, to grace the cover of a major magazine. You don’t have to be any size at all. You just have to be you.
We have publications like Curvicality that are specifically dedicated to the body positive movement, to showing real women with real bodies. To celebrate beauty in every stretch mark instead of trying to hide the art that is the ever-changing human body.
But we still have a long way to go. The days of body shame are far from gone. We must continue to push to make sure that no one is shamed the way Kirstie and Oprah were. Both of these amazing women were beautiful at any weight. Size does not determine beauty.
So today, we celebrate Kirstie’s memory. We love you, Kirstie Alley! You contributed to opening the eyes of society. Your smile, talent, comedy and charisma will shine on forever.
And for the record, you were a damn beautiful fat actress.